RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Shockoe Bottom restaurant owners struggling through coronavirus closures and restrictions are asking where’s that outdoor seating they were promised. They say but now feel forgotten by the city of Richmond.
“We are feeling very abandoned and neglected by the city,” said Jackie Bishop Wells, who owns Fallout on 18th Street.
Ever since the pandemic hit, the normally popular nightclub has been struggling to survive by serving carryout. “We need quick answers, those bills don’t stop coming,” Bishop Wells said.
Patio dining is helping 17th Street Market restaurants stay afloat. However, Fallout and others along 18th, 19th and Main streets are still waiting for their outdoor dining.
“They have reached out to the city and the Mayor’s office multiple times and are just getting no response,” Helen Emerson, the vice president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association, told 8News. Emerson says if the city delays much longer, it may be too late for the businesses
“At least some tables and chairs to make it through this pandemic,” she explained. “They are having a hard time paying their bills.”
Although looking at the uneven bricks along 18th Street, Bishop Wells realizes it might not be as simple as sidewalk seating. They may need to extend into the street.
“I have a gigantic hole in my sidewalk that is a trip hazard,” she said.
The condition of the sidewalks is something Bottom business owners have been complaining about for years. “Our customers are coming here and spending one of highest meals tax in the country and they can’t walk safely on a sidewalk,” Bishop Wells says.
Yet, that’s not all that has Bottom business owners feeling abandoned. “With the mayor’s new plans to bring a museum down here, which is much needed for Richmond, we are looking forward to it,” Emerson told 8News. “We would also love to see a trash plan, so our neighborhood looks clean.”
Every business is on their own for trash and grease removal. Some businesses don’t even have room for a dumpster. Monday the trash in the area was overflowing and the smell was overwhelming.
“I know that business owners are very frustrated,” said Emerson. Just last weekend diners trying to enjoy their patio dinner had to watch on as city crews worked to clear out grease clogging the sewer.
8News reached out the Mayor Levar Stoney’s office, Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille, the Department of Public Works as well as the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the 17th Street Market, for answers. We were told:
The Mayor has proposed millions earmarked for enhancements to Shockoe Bottom. The $1.8 million Franklin Street Improvements Project (between 18th Street and Ambler Street) is now complete, as well as the Marketplace project.
DPW is working with The Shockoe Partnership and local businesses with regard to trash compaction issues.
The storm drain cleaning was in response to a sewer backup complaint. The response by the Department of Public Utilities was warranted so activities and operations of the businesses and restaurants in Shockoe Bottom could continue uninterrupted.
This emergency response was warranted due to a business not effectively disposing of the fats, oils and grease (FOG) properly. The work crews found the problem to be heavy amounts of grease clogging both the business lateral and causing blockages in the sanitary sewer main. If the service was delayed more backups could have potentially occurred.
The City continues to urge all customers to refrain from dumping waste cooking (FOG) down their home or business drains for the protection of their personal property, as well as the public sanitary sewer collection system.
In support of the businesses around the market, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities has assisted in extending their patio spaces to offer more seating for patrons. In addition, the crowd control barriers have been secured in order to define the space, as needed by Virginia ABC. We have increased the cleanup of the market square and are working with businesses to make sure they are meeting Virginia Department of Health and city guidelines as they relate to COVID-19.”